Fortunately, there are some stellar places not far from Denver where we're able to dip, wade, wallow, sink and swim. Here are ten of the best wet spots around the state, from super-cool swimming pools and water parks to natural and manmade lakes, perfectly suited for a quick afternoon visit or an Independence Day jaunt.
5100 North 51st Street, Boulder
The little beach with a dedicated swim area at this 700-acre site sports a gorgeous backdrop of the foothills, which light up at sunset, and the shallow, roped-off area boasts a seasonal lifeguard, making this a great place to take the kids. The reservoir hosts several open-water swims each summer (see the website for 2019 dates), and there are also grills and picnic tables, along with a decent cafe that serves the crispy-hot fries of your pool-going childhood; local food trucks pop up in the parking lot, too. An on-site concessionaire rents pontoon boats, canoes, pedal boats, paddleboards and kayaks — all good ideas in this setting — and beach volleyball setups and floating decks expand the entertainment options. Fair warning: Some remodeling is under way this summer, with plans that include an amphitheater for movie nights and shows and a boardwalk of sorts. There’s a $7 entry fee from May to September.
Devil’s Punch Bowl
Near Aspen: Colorado 82 toward Independence Pass; pullout is just past mile marker 50, at 39.119709, -106.708672
Near Crested Butte: Take Gothic Road (Route 135) north 15.6 miles from town over Schofield Pass, past the West Maroon Trailhead to a parking area near the South Fork Crystal River.
One Devil's Punch Bowl is not enough for Colorado; this state has two. One is about nine miles from Aspen, a rock-lined hole that’s fed by several small but powerful waterfalls coming from the Roaring Fork River, creating impossibly blue water and a sweet little swimming hole surrounded by cliffs and caves. The one closer to Crested Butte is spelled Punchbowl and sits at 10,707 feet in the Elk Mountains, at Schofield Pass. It’s fed by the South Fork Crystal River and is more aquamarine-colored, but also has cliffs and caves to explore, along with the soothing sounds of a huge waterfall crashing into the swimming spot. A 4-wheel-drive vehicle is recommended for getting into the CB Punchbowl, which also requires a 200-foot hike down into the bowl. Both bowls are full of snowmelt (read: freezing cold), which is welcome on a blazing-hot day, and both have a twenty- to thirty-foot drop into the water, depending on the melt — but we’re not recommending that. Instead, we suggest you simply climb down into either and stake out your own little hidey-hole. Bottom line: Whichever one you visit, you’re the lucky devil.
U.S. 34, Grand Lake
Situated at the headwaters of the Colorado River on the far side of Rocky Mountain National Park, Grand Lake is Colorado’s largest natural lake, and it’s a must-visit for fans of boating, fishing, swimming and anything else you can do in 600 acres of glacial goodness. Surrounded by pine trees — keep your eyes peeled for the moose and elk that feed at the edge of the woods along the shores — the aptly named Grand is big enough for pontoon boats, fishing skiffs, canoes, kayaks and speedboats to share the lake love, which means fishing and waterskiing and tubing, and the sporadic sandy areas create nice beaches for swimming. The marina has a little coffee shop and rents a variety of boats, along with stand-up paddleboards; you can also hire a guide to help you navigate the water and find the good fishing eddies.
Jackson Lake State Park, near Orchard
Tree-lined sandy sections and a soft, sandy bottom make Jackson Lake a solid choice for a day at the beach.Take your floatie out into the water and while away the day watching water- and jet-skiers tool around this 1,910-acre body of water, a reservoir built in 1902 using the South Platte River to irrigate crops east of Greeley. Birders flock here for a peek at the many species that call this park home, including Swainson’s hawks and the occasional long-billed curlews and whooping cranes. Because it’s a state park, there’s plenty of camping (the sites farther from the lake have fewer bugs), and the fishing is good and plentiful: The lake is stocked with walleye, catfish, Northern pike, large- and smallmouth bass, rainbow trout and crappie. There’s also an off-highway vehicle (OHV) track in the park, so when you tire of water sports, you can ride your dirt bike around, and the two geocaching sites can keep kids occupied for hours. A daily pass is $8.
La Alma Recreation Center
1325 West 11th Avenue, 720-865-2200
It was nearly a hundred years old when it finally fell apart, but you’d never know that based on the remodel of the outdoor pool at La Alma Recreation Center in Lincoln Park. This pool is completely up to date, with a separate and elaborate kiddie area with all kinds of water-spewing features, as well as a whirlpool and a super-fun water slide with twists and turns crazy enough to make big kids squeal, too. Serious swimmers can use the lap pool, with six lanes and a diving board. The entrance fee is $5 for the day, and you can bring your own food to eat at one of the umbrella-topped tables. The only bummer is that it’s closed on Sundays.